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Marriage at West Point draws attention to LGBTQ progress in military

On Nov. 2, about 20 people gathered at the Cadet Chapel of the US Military Academy at West Point to attend a wedding. The Cadet Chapel has been standing for over a hundred years and has been the host for many marriages, but what made this marriage different from those in the past was that it was the first time two men had ever gotten married there in the military academy’s history.

The two men, Larry Choate III and Daniel Lennox, graduated from the academy in 2009 and 2007, respectively. According to the Associated Press, the two did not know each other as cadets but met after graduating. Choate served in the military for a year but was then received a medical discharge, and the two met in December 2012 when Lennox was on leave from deployment to Afghanistan, a New York Times story said.

The first member of the military to be in a same-sex marriage was Navy Lieutenant Gary Ross, who married civilian Dan Swenzy. Ross and Swenzy married on Sep. 20, 2011–the exact same day that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy ended. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which went into effect in 1994, banned openly gay people from serving in the military and mandated that military applicants not be asked about their orientation.

West Point is located in New York, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2011. The same year, The Department of Defense issued a statement saying that the use of military property for events, such as weddings, should not be determined based on sexual orientation, and also stated that military chaplains could choose whether or not they would officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies. According to the Associated Press story, West Point hosted two same-sex marriages between women in 2012.

“It’s maybe one more barrier that’s pushed over a little bit, or maybe one more glass ceiling that’s shattered that makes it easier for the next couple,” Choate told the Associated Press of his wedding.

Despite the historical nature of the marriage, many members of the Mills community were unaware of it. Tania Godoy, a third-year student at Mills, had not heard about Choate and Lennox’s marriage, but was not that surprised when she found out about it.

“I understand why people may be shocked because of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the fact that it’s a military academy but for me, it’s perfectly normal to see same-sex marriages,” Godoy said. “But I think it’s cool that they’re accepting it more.”

Like Godoy, sophomore Kimberly Septien was unaware of the recent marriage at West Point, but was happy to see that same-sex marriages are becoming more widely accepted.

“I hadn’t heard about it but I think it’s beautiful,” Septien said. “It’s lovely to hear about that being possible. That’s amazing.”

In recent years, members of the West Point community have worked to create a safe space for the LGBTQ community at the military academy. The military academy now has a Gay-Straight Alliance, called USMA Spectrum, which works to promote tolerance amongst cadets, as well as building a community for LGBTQ cadets and allies. In 2009, a group called Knights Out formed with the mission to support West Point in advocating for rights of LGBTQ members of the military. According to the Knights Out website, the organization is comprised of staff, faculty, alumni, and cadets of West Point. Knights Out works closely with USMA Spectrum by providing funds to allow cadets to attend conferences and offers a mentorship program for cadets. Knights Out also highlights progress for the LGBTQ community at West Point, such as posting pictures of a gay cadet and his boyfriend attending the West Point Winter Formal earlier this year.

Reverend Laura Engelken, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life at Mills, was also pleased to hear of the marriage and to see that same-sex couples are gaining more support from within the military community.

“I think it’s great that people for whom the military is part of their identity and career to be able to bring their whole selves and be with who they love,” Engelken said.

The chapel at Mills has also been the host to several same-sex marriages recently. According to Sandy Vavak, who works in the College Events Office, about three have taken place, with a fourth wedding coming up in December.

Although Lennox and Choate’s wedding has called attention in the media to the growing number of same-sex marriages at West Point, as well as the progress the LGBTQ community has made within the military, Choate expressed to the Associated Press that they are just like other couples who have tied the knot at the Cadet Chapel–the only difference being that there was no bride in attendance.